Thursday, June 23, 2005

Believe into Jesus

What does it mean to believe in God? Is it believing that He exists, that He has said and done certain things in human history, and that they are true? That is only the bare minimum of faith, and it is not even true faith, really, not the faith that saves. To believe in the true God, and in the One whom He has sent, Jesus Christ, is more than believing facts or propositions about God. It is, in a common biblical phrase (which is usually not translated literally), believing into Him.

In what is perhaps the most famous New Testament verse (John 3:16), we read: “For God so loved the world that He sent his only Son, that whoever believes in Him (literally, “all who believe into Him”: pas o pisteuon eis auton) should not perish but have eternal life.” What can we understand by “believing into” Jesus?

The expression connotes a personal engagement and communion, not a mere intellectual assent. Our faith is “into” Jesus, that is, it connects with him personally and establishes a relationship (or ratifies the relationship God has established). Personal relationship, engagement, and communion are not static concepts, but suggest a dynamism of growth, maturation, and fruitfulness. That is why a legalistic “once saved, always saved” approach to Christ can never really be a believing “into” Him.

Some time ago a young fundamentalist Christian man asked me to give him the Catholic position on justification, for a paper he was writing for his Bible college. I obliged him, and he wrote back, thanking me but “correcting” me here and there according to his own interpretation of Scripture. Then he went on to say, as if it were something to glory in: “I will never be closer to God than I am right now,” evidently meaning that he believed he was confirmed in righteousness and that he would remain in that state forever, for he must have thought that such a state does not admit a need for spiritual growth. I thought to myself: How sad! This young man has only recently begun his Christian life, and he thinks it a blessing that he will never get any closer to God than he is now! He completely misunderstands believing into Christ: entering into a relationship that continually grows through our faith, prayer, efforts to overcome sin and grow in love for Jesus, with the help of the Sacraments and God’s ever-flowing and deifying grace. If anyone thinks he will not (or somehow cannot) love Jesus more tomorrow than he does today, he is the most pitiable of men!

Hey, I'm into Jesus, that is, I believe into Him. You can, too. Get beyond merely believing things about Him, and realize how inadequate are the static formulas of mere acceptance of “salvation.” Rather, abide in Him as He desires to abide in you. Grow in Him as his presence grows in you. Enter into a communion with Him that increases and deepens all the time. Believe into Jesus and you will find yourself entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.